There’s never really been much of a narrative to the Grammy awards. Unlike the Oscars and (increasingly) the Emmys, the nominations tend to forgo critical consensus and instead tries to find some ever-shifting sweet spot between commercial success, household name status, and actual quality. There are some broad trends in what kind of music it tends to reward, but there’s no real formula for figuring out what it might favor in any giving year. As a televised spectacle it can be occasionally fun to watch, but it’s not the MTV Awards when it comes to all out fun nor is it the Pazz’n’Jop poll when it comes to critical consensus.
Maybe it’s because no one actually ever tries to make an album with the express intent of winning a Grammy. A-List actors will take chances on more artistic films with the goal of winning an Oscar and cable channels and streaming services take big risks on shows with the hope that they may find glory at the Emmys.
Yet, there’s no real equivalent in the music business. While Brad Pitt may team up with a little-known indie director for awards bait, Katy Perry is never going to record some experimental post-electro-R&B meets synth wave EP just to win a Grammy, you know what we mean? Nor do the awards go out of their way to shine the spotlight on littler indie albums either.
So the Grammys takes whatever music was made that year and tries to categorize and make sense of it all with populist sentiment in mind, and then dumps a long list of nominations in 84 different categories on us that we, in turn, try to coax some narrative out. You can read the full list here, but here’s our best go at takeaways in seven easy bullet points.
1. Beyoncé Has Never Had a Big Year at The Grammys, This Might Finally Be It Beyoncé has conquered the world, but she’s never really conquered the Grammys. Which is odd to say, because between her solo work, various collaborations and career with Destiny’s Child, she’s won 20 of them. Most of those, however, come in below-the-fold categories. She’s the biggest pop star on the planet, but the Grammys seem to think she’s merely a talented R&B singer. When it comes to the show’s big four awards, she’s only ever won one – the 2010 Song of the Year award for “Single Ladies.” She took home a few others that year, but 2010 will forever be known as Taylor Swift’s first win for Album of the Year.
That could change this year. After almost completely ignoring Four and snubbing Beyoncé in favor of Beck, she might finally have her year. She leads the nominations with a total of nine and has nominations for Song, Record, and Album of the year. The biggest spoiler may be Adele, who has also nominations in those three categories, but she’s already had her big Grammy night by taking home all three of them back in 2012.
2. David Bowie Only Has One Damn Grammy, But That Could Change To give you an idea of how quixotic the Grammys are, David Bowie has only ever received one competitive award. He won best music video back in 1985 for his short film Jazzin’ for Blue Jean, and that’s it. That’s really, somehow, it! Nothing from his famed Berlin Trilogy was ever even nominated, and his album Let’s Dance was his only nomination in a major category (it lost to Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which is understandable). Sure, they gave him a lifetime achievement award once, but the Grammys have never been a huge fan of Bowie during his prime. They’re finally trying to make it up to the great this year, now that he’s dead.
His final album Blackstar and its lead single are nominated in five different categories (though, one of those awards would be for the album’s art director, not Bowie). Some critics think it’s a snub, but in a way, it’s a major Grammy triumph for Bowie. He’s never had that many nominations in a single year before.
3. The Grammy’s Prove That Their Own “Best New Artist” Award is Meaningless Remember back in 2011 when Twitter practically erupted in flames when jazz artist Esperanza Spalding beat out Justin Bieber (and Drake) for Best New Artist. Yeah, well, this year both Bieber and Drake are nominated for Album of the Year.
To make it stranger, Spalding actually also released an album this year as well. Emily’s D+Evolution was critically adored. Pitchfork, in particular, gave it an 8.6 and the Best New Music mark. Yet, the Grammys completely ignored the album, even in its Jazz specific categories. So good luck to whoever wins the award this year, because it certainly doesn’t mean the Grammys have your back later down the road. So, the year’s two most commercially successful new artists – Zayn and Shawn Mendes – shouldn’t even be that miffed that they were snubbed in the category.
4. Kanye Can’t Catch a Break The Grammy’s have a weird history with Kanye West. They nominated his first three albums for their top award. He never won, and when he released what is still regarded as his masterpiece, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, the Grammys snubbed him the top category completely. Kanye’s been relegated mostly to the rap-specific categories ever since, a trend that continues this year. Though he does dominate the genre, with nods in Best Rap Album and two each in Best Rap/Sung Performance, Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance. Oddly, neither Famous nor Fade got any recognition in the video category.
5. A Lot of People Are Probably Googling “Lukas Graham” and “Sturgill Simpson” Right Now. Lukas Graham is a Danish R&B band of sorts whose song “7 Years” you may have heard on the radio is up for both Song and Record of the year.
Simpson is a sort of country-meets-roots-rock guy from Nashville who’s been bubbling under for a few years, and the Grammys probably feel safe in recognizing in the major Album of the Year category because the disc, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, is his first on a major label.
There. Saved you some time.
6. Somehow This Could Also Be Amy Schumer’s Big Night The Grammys technically aren’t awards for music. They’re awards for audio recording, and that includes spoken word recordings as well. Amy Schumer is the breakout star of the non-musical categories with a nomination each for the audio version of her book The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo in Best Spoken Word Album and the audio version of her HBO special Live at the Apollo in the Best Comedy Album category.
7. Hmm, “Jolene” is Really Dolly Parton’s Signature Song Now, Isn’t It? “I Will Always Love You” may be the most successful song Dolly Parton ever wrote, but it was really Whitney Houston who made it iconic. “Nine to Five” was Parton’s biggest commercial hit on her own, but it was a fun ’80s soundtrack hit and not necessarily a timeless classic. “Coat of Many Colors” may have been her big breakthrough and most autobiographical song. But it seems in recent years her track “Jolene” has become Parton’s signature song. Artists as varied as Miley Cyrus and the White Stripes have reintroduced the track to younger generations, and the Grammys have decided to cement that status by making the somewhat curious choice to nominate Pentatonix’s a cappella version (which features Parton herself) for Best Country Duo/Group Performance.
And that’s pretty much the Grammys in a nutshell. Finally figuring things out years, if not decades, later.
Beyoncé Always Makes a Statement on the Red Carpet
Beyonce made her presence known on the red carpet of the 9th Annual MTV Movie Awards in an asymmetrical tie-dye slip dress paired with long blonde wavy locks.
A year later, Beyonce returned to the 2001 MTV Movie Awards in a yellow sheer and embellished midi dress that accentuated her petite waistline and long legs.
Beyonce wore this bohemian-inspired suede dress, designed by her mother Tina Knowles, to the MTV Video Music Awards.
Beyonce celebrated her first film role in the Austin Powers film Goldmember by dressing the part for the premiere.
Beyonce wore a strapless denim patchwork dress, fitted Yankees hat and Manolo Blahnik Timberland boots during her performance with Jay-Z on MTV’s TRL.
Beyonce didn’t always get it right–this fur-trimmed corset and broken satin ball skirt at the VHI Big in ’03 event was a miss.
Beyonce was a stylish glamazon at the Billboard Music Awards in an intricately beaded gold mini frock. She completed the look with gold metal sandals and oversized pendant earrings.
Beyonce was all about the glam at the 2004 Brit Awards. She showed of her phenomenal shape by keeping her look simple in a spaghetti-strapped gold printed slip dress with bare wrists and neck.
At the 2004 MTV Video Music Awards, Beyonce paired Farrah Fawcett-inspired curls with a playful gold short suit.
The singer looked sophisticated at the 2005 Academy Awards in a strapless vintage Atelier Versace gown and bold diamond chandelier earrings.
Beyonce is the master of glamour in an exquisite champagne mermaid-shaped embellished gown at the 2005 Cipriani Wall Street Concert Series.
At the 48th Annual Grammy Awards, the singer wore another fitted strapless gown. And, again, it was gorgeous.
At the 48th Annual Grammy Awards, the gorgeous singer appeared in yet another fitted strapless mermaid-styled gown.
In this glitzy Dolce & Gabbana and metal corset belt, Beyonce was the queen of the 2007 BET Awards, where she won the award for Best Female R&B Artist and the number one spot on every best dressed list.
Beyonce looked stunning at the 2007 Movies Rock Event in this emerald green satin Zac Posen dress.
Beyonce arrived at the 2008 Grammy Awards in a chic sunshine yellow sweetheart gown with a matching neck scarf.
At the 2009 Academy Awards, Beyonce posed in a Tina Knowles House of Dereon original design. This bold embroidered, figure-hugging floral gown fit like a glove.
The singer showed off her curves on the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards red carpet in a futuristic, metallic Atelier Versace strapless gown.
Beyonce wore a rose-colored satin Stephane Rolland gown to the 2010 Grammy Awards. The plunging neckline, embroidered tribal designs, matching talons and structured shoulder paddings was the perfect semi-formal look for the occasion.
At the 2011 Met Gala, Beyonce turned heads in a black and gold Emilio Pucci cut-out fishtail gown paired with a sleek middle-part ponytail hairstyle.
Beyonce revealed her baby bump at the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards in this orange one-shoulder Lanvin gown.
The singer attended the 2012 Met Gala in a show-stopping sheer Givenchy couture gown, which was detailed with crystal embellishments, black lace and a ombre feathered train.
Beyonce wore a neon-colored Stephane Rolland gown to the 2012 BET Awards. The large gold metal geometric belt was the perfect accessory to accentuate her waistline and curves.
For the release of her self-titled visual album ‘Beyonce’, the singer wore a Tom Ford black sheer and embellished mini dress paired with the matching thigh-high peep-toe boots.
Wearing a custom ivory Michael Costello sheer floral print gown to the 56th Grammy Awards, Beyonce leaves little to the imagination.
Playing into the ‘Charles James: Beyond Fashion’ theme at the 2014 Met Gala, the star chose a gothic-inspired, sheer and embellished Givenchy gown.
Just when she’d showed it all on the red carpet, Beyonce arrived to the 2015 Met Gala in a jaw dropping see-through Givenchy custom embellished gown with glittering colored rhinestones in all the right places.
Beyonce rocked a high ponytail and a seductive maroon dress at the Tidal X:1020 event.
NEW YORK, NY – MAY 02: Singer Beyonce attends the “Manus x Machina: Fashion In An Age Of Technology” Costume Institute Gala at Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 2, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)
Nominated for 11 awards at the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards, Beyonce wore an appropriately regal gown by Francesco Scognamiglio on the red carpet. The dress featured a feathery neckline that extended out and around the back, giving it the illusion of wings.